Technical: Power unit usage ahead of the Dutch Grand Prix

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We are halfway through the 2023 F1 season, but many drivers find themselves on the cusp of potential power unit related penalties. F1Technical’s senior writer Balázs Szabó dwells on which drivers need to watch out for their power units in the remainder of the 2023 F1 season.

In 2014, the championship saw the introduction of a revised engine formula. The previous 2.4-litre V8 engine configuration that was used used between 2006 and 2013 was replaced with a new formula that revolved around a 1.6-litre turbocharged V6 engine that incorporated an energy recovery system.

The sporting regulation regarding the number of permitted power unit components and their development allowance have been updated on multiple occasions since 2014. Currently, development of the power units is not allowed as they have been frozen since the start of 2022. It means that teams need to use their current power units until the end of the 2025 season with the following year set to see the introduction of all-new engine regulations.

The current generation of F1 power units features seven different elements: the internal combustion engine (ICE), motor generator unit-heat (MGU-H), motor generator unit-kinetic (MGU-K), turbocharger, energy store (ES), control electronics (CE) and exhaust.

Over the course of the 2023 season, a driver may use no more than four ICEs, MGU-Hs, MGU-Ks and turbochargers. Furthermore, , drivers are restricted to two energy stores and control electronics, and eight of each of the four elements that make up a set of exhaust systems (comprising primaries left-hand side, primaries right-hand side, secondary LHS and secondary RHS).

Three drivers have already exceeded their power units allowance for the 2023 F1 season.

Charles Leclerc received a drop of 10 grid positions due to using three CE units at Round 2 of the season, the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. The Monegasque was given a 15-place grid penalty at the Spanish Grand Prix for another addition control electronics and a fresh energy store. While the first change was the result of Ferrari’s reliability issues early on in the season, the second was more of a tactical change as Leclerc qualified himself down in P19 for the Barcelona F1 race.

At the Australian Grand Prix, Sergio Pérez was required to start the race from the pit lane for using his third CE and ES unit. It was also a tactical move following the Mexican’s low-key qualifying performance in Melbourne.

The already-ousted Nyck de Vries also received a grid drop penalty at the Austrian Grand Prix after his former team AlphaTauri equipped his car with a fresh energy store and control electronics, the third of each component. The car is now races by Daniel Ricciardo, who has to complete the season with the pool of used and fresh engine components used by Nyck de Vries.

There are several drivers on the verge of exceeding their allowance for the year with Pierre Gasly and Nico Hulkenberg finding themselves in big jeopardy. However, there are other drivers who are likely to struggle to complete the rest of the season with their allowance of power unit components.

With the introduction of the hybrid power units back in 2014, the gearbox was also redesigned to suit the new characteristics of the brand-new powertrain and its torque delivery. Currently, F1 vehicles use highly automated sequential semi-automatic gearboxes with paddle-shifters. The regulations state that one reverse gear must be used and 8 forward gears can be used which was increased from 7 since the 2014 season.

In the technical regulations, gearbox units are referred to as restricted-number components. These elements involve the gearbox case and cassette, and the gearbox driveline, gear change components and auxiliary components.

As far as the maximum number of gearboxes are concerned, teams must bear in mind that gearbox units are split into two parts as per the sporting regulations. Over the course of the 2023 F1 season, drivers have to get around with an allocation of four gearbox cassettes & cases and four driverlines, gear change components and auxiliary components.

It also means that teams have to make sure that a gearbox lasts at least six races if they want to complete the entirety of the season with only four gearboxes.

The first time the allocation of either of the components is exceeded, a five-place grid penalty will be dished out. It means that a complete gearbox unit that is outside of the pool of a driver leads to a grid drop of ten places.

At the Belgian Grand Prix, championship runaway leader Max Verstappen became the first driver to require a fifth assembly this year. Interestingly, the Dutchman did not receive a completely fresh gearbox unit, and it meant that he was handed out ‘only’ a five-place grid drop in Spa.

As far as the numbers are concerned, Sergio Perez, Pierre Gasly, Kevin Magnussen and Nuco Hulkenberg are also in jeopardy as they have already thrown four gearbox units into their pool, meaning that they are likely to require additional components in the remaining ten races of the season.

On the other end of the spectrum, George Russell, Lewis Hamilton, Daniel Ricciardo, Yuki Tsunoda, Alex Albon, Lando Norris, Fernando Alonso and Zhou Guanyu have only required two gearbox units across the opening twelve races of the season, and they have every chance to avoid a gearbox-induced grid penalty.